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Consumer Reports urges Peeps to remove ‘cancer-causing’ dye from marshmallow candies

A press release published by Consumer Reports says that the dye in pink and purple Peeps put the people who eat it at risk.

The manufacturer behind Peeps, those popular chicks and bunny-shaped marshmallow confections often tucked into Easter baskets, is facing pressure to remove a food dye in its products.

On April 3, Consumer Reports, a nonprofit consumer advocacy organization, issued a press release confirming that it had urged Just Born Quality Confections to stop its use of Red Dye No. 3, which is used in the candy company’s purple and pink Peeps products.

Red Dye No. 3 is also known as Erythrosine and FD&C Red #3 by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) which approves its use.

Consumer Groups, Scientists Call On Peeps Candies To Stop Use Of Red Dye 3
Consumer Reports announced in a recent press release that it had contacted Just Born Quality Confections earlier this year about concerns over the company’s use of Red Dye No. 3 in the Peeps candies, which has been found to cause cancer in animals.Joe Raedle / Getty Images

In the press release, Consumer Reports calls the chemical a “cancer-causing dye,” citing previous research linking it to cancer in animals (though there isn't sufficient research linking it to cancer in humans), as well as a state agency report linking it to adverse impacts on children’s behavioral health.

The International Association of Color Manufacturers pushed back on the California Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment’s findings on children’s behavioral health, claiming at the time “its conclusion that an association may exist are based on insufficient scientific evidence.”

Consumer Reports says it sent a letter to Just Born urging it to end the manufacturing of Peeps with Red Dye No. 3 earlier this year but that the company “has not announced any plans to change its manufacturing process.”

Michael Hansen, Ph.D., a senior staff scientist for Consumer Reports, was quoted in the release with a warning to parents.

“Parents should know that the purple and pink colored Peeps they may be putting in their kids’ Easter basket are made with an ingredient that is a known carcinogen,” Hansen said. “Just Born Quality Confections should stop making its iconic marshmallow treats with this dangerous food chemical since other less risky alternatives are readily available.”

In a statement provided to, a spokesperson for Just Born responded to the press release, stating that Red Dye No. 3 is “currently an approved colorant for use in candy” by the FDA.

According to Consumer Reports, the Just Born products that contain Red Dye No. 3 include Peeps Pink Marshmallow Chicks and Bunnies, Peeps Lavender Marshmallow Chicks and Bunnies, Hot Tamales, Peeps Hot Tamales Marshmallow Chicks, Party Cake Peeps, Peeps Fruit Punch Marshmallow Chicks and Peeps Wildberry Marshmallow Bunnies.

The FDA website currently lists Red Dye No. 3 as one of its nine certified color additives in foods like “confections, beverages, cereals, ice cream cones, frozen dairy desserts, popsicles, frostings & icings.”

“We manufacture all our candies in compliance with FDA regulations, sourcing our ingredients and packaging exclusively from reputable suppliers who adhere to high quality and safety standards,” Just Born’s statement said in part. “We also provide consumers with information on our packaging and our websites to help them make informed choices about our products. Our product development team is continually exploring opportunities to provide expanded options for our consumers, including colors derived from natural sources that can deliver the same visual impact and stability as their certified counterparts.”

A spokesperson for the FDA also provided a statement to in response to the Consumer Reports press release, noting that the agency is actively reviewing a petition filed for Red Dye No. 3.

According to the spokesperson, Red Dye No. 3 has two FDA-authorized additive color regulations: one regulation is for food, and the other is for ingested drugs.

“The color additive (Red Dye No. 3) is a certified color,” the statement said. “The FDA requires all color additives to be listed on product labels so that they can be identified by consumers. Consumers who wish to limit the amount of color additives in their diets may check the food ingredient list on labels.” ("Red #3" is indeed listed in the ingredients on the Peeps products that contain it.)

According to the Federal Food, Drug & Cosmetic Act, any ingredient that is added to food must be safe for its intended conditions of use. The law also requires safety information to be available to establish “reasonable certainty of no harm” for products on the market.

This is not the first time consumer advocates have flagged Red Dye No. 3 as a potential issue.

In February, California attracted attention after it introduced legislation that would prevent the manufacture, sale or distribution of any food product in the state containing Red Dye No. 3 — most notably, Skittles. The measure, Assembly Bill (AB) 418, also targeted other processed foods containing certain chemicals — titanium dioxide, potassium bromate, brominated vegetable oil and propylparaben — which it said are "dangerous and toxic."